Southern pine beetles infesting local pine forests

Published 3:00 am Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Southern pine beetles are no match for Hurricane Irma, but they can still deal a devastating blow to Alabama’s pine plantations.

Although a full-grown Southern pine beetle is only about the length of a grain of rice, it is well suited to take out trees.

Jeremy Lowery, district forester with the Alabama Forestry Commission, said several Pike County pine forests have been affected by Southern pine beetles. Landowners whose pines have been identified via flyovers as showing signs of infestation are being notified by mail and encouraged to take the necessary steps to have the trees removed to prevent further loss.

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“Landowners can look for signs of infestation by walking their pine plantations,” Lowery said. “If the needles look brown around the outer edge of a circle of pines and the needles are dead inside the circle, then the trees are infested.”

Lowery said the infestation could be stopped if the trees are cut and a buffer established around the area.

“The trees in the affected area have to be cut and a buffer of at least one-and-a-half to two times as wide as the tallest tree, has to be cut,” he said. “Southern pine beetles don’t fly; they glide from tree to tree so the damage is not as widespread.”

Lowery said Southern pine beetles are present in pines all the time but the pines have a natural resistance to the pests.

However, Lowery said what has happened is the drought conditions that Alabama experienced, beginning April 26, 2016 and lasting for 60 straight weeks, have weaken the pines’ defense to the beetles, so the state is seeing infestations.

“We are hoping for an early frost and that will put a stop to a lot of the infestation,” he said.

Lowery said 200-plus pine forests in Pike, Butler and Crenshaw counties have been affected by Southern pine beetle infestation.

The infestation has occurred along the ridge that runs through the northern Pike County area but could spread southward if it is not contained and stopped.

Deborah Huggins-Davis, president of the Pike County Treasure Forest Association, said a small infestation was found in pines on her property.

“We were blessed that the infestation was found early and we only lost a few trees,” Huggins Davis said. “A drone was first used to try to detect any infestation of Southern pine beetles; then a pilot spotted it. Drones can be used but the thinking on the state level is that the drones have not been perfected enough to be absolutely dependable.”

Huggins-Davis said when a pine forest is infected and especially in a small area, it can be difficult getting a logger to take the job.

“Nobody wants to fool with it,” she said. “All of that heavy equipment has to be hauled in and it’s expensive to move it and the area to be cut is usually not that large. Also, there’s no market for dead wood. So, getting the infested trees cut can be a problem.”

Tommy Peacock, owner of Peacock Timber Company, said some pulpwood companies are not buying any more dead wood and others want dead wood mixed in with green wood.

“Southern pine beetles can kill 20 or 30 acres of pines real quick,” he said. “The best thing timber owners can do is keep and eye on the trees. Little white balls of sap will indicate beetles are feeding and, when they cut a circle around the tree, the tree will die. Timber is sold by weight and the trees will lose a lot of weight in a short period of time and the property owner will take a big money hit.”
For more information or to report an infestation, call 334-335-5712.